Jan. 12, 2000
by Jeff Bechthold
To call Ed Erickson's baseball career a disappointment would be an overstatement. After all, with 31 career home runs, he has hit more round-trippers than anybody in Husky history.
To call Erickson's UW career a dream would also be a stretch. That's thanks to a severe wrist and hand injury suffered halfway through last year - an injury that sharply curtailed his production and probably delayed the start of a professional career.
This season, the senior slugger has a chance to make everything right. His lengthy recovery from surgery is nearly complete and he intends to take advantage of his final season of college ball.
After playing about half of the time in his first two seasons, Erickson was a bona fide starter last year - the Huskies' everyday first baseman and cleanup hitter. Through the first 21 games of the season, he was batting .325 and had driven in 24 runs. In the 17 games after, he managed only one home run and nine RBI while his average dropped to .270.
"Last year, I was having a great time," he recalls. "Then about a month into the season I broke my wrist. It felt like someone had taken something away from me. I really got a wake-up call. Just thinking about it still turns me off. I went from someone who was loving the game and having a great time to someone you didn't want to be around. I hated the world because I couldn't do what I wanted to do."
Erickson suffered the injury in a game in late March against UCLA when a runner charging hard to first base inadvertantly ran into his glove hand and bent the wrist back severely. Despite the pain, doctors had trouble finding anything wrong in the X-rays and Erickson continued to play. However, his ability to hit - particularly for power - was nearly gone.
"It affected my ability to swing," Erickson says. "It hurt so bad in practice, I almost didn't practice at all the rest of the year. When I got to a game, the adrenalin and excitement would lower the pain enough to where I could play. Even so, I could really only swing with one hand. It just wasn't the same."
Meanwhile, despite continued efforts, the nature of the injury - and it's true severity - was a mystery to the doctors. Nonetheless, Erickson had his own suspicions.
"I knew there was something more than a sprain," he explains, "because my thumb didn't work for about a month afterwards."
A couple of weeks prior to the collision, Erickson had hit his 30th career home run, tying him with former UW All-American Kevin Miller as the Huskies' career home run leader. After having hit eight home runs in his first 21 games, it looked like getting his 31st career homer and breaking the record could be a struggle.
However, on May 7 against Arizona State at Husky Ballpark, more than five weeks after getting hurt, Erickson finally hit that 31st home run.
"I don't know how I even did it," he says with a laugh. "I was elated when I hit it. I didn't think I still had the ability to hit home runs. I knew I could once in a while get a hit, but to go opposite field off a left-hander, I couldn't have fathomed that."
He's also glad that he enters a new season without the record hanging over him. "I'm happy I don't have to worry about it," he says. "It's going to be fun. Like my grandpa says, every time I hit a home run now, I set a new record."
After the extent of the injury was finally made clear in the final week of the season, Erickson underwent delicate surgery that involved a bone graft before spending an incredible 21 weeks in a cast. He finally began to be able to hit last November. He says the rehabilitation has gone well and that he'll be 100 percent when the season starts. In the meantime, all of his classmates are gone - off to the professional ranks after their junior season, as is the custom in college baseball. Erickson is now the lone senior and oldest player on a team that includes 13 sophomores and 17 freshmen.
He's glad for the opportunity to provide leadership to a very young team, but admits that he finds it unusual to be the only member of his class still on the roster.
"It's definitely weird," he says. "When I found out I broke my wrist and was having surgery, I knew I was coming back. The possibility of being the only senior was kind of weird. You'd think there'd be at least three or four guys the same age. I almost feel like the dad of the team. There are only four or five guys that are 21, and I'm 22. I know I'm the oldest guy."
Chief among his goals for the upcoming season, Erickson hopes to take advantage of his role as the team's most experienced and accomplished player, providing leadership for this young teammates. But most of all he wants to get his career back on track and spring towards his professional career with a solid senior season.
"My main goal this year is go out and re-establish why I play this game," he says. "From when I was a young kid, I loved going to the park and just hitting. That's what I like to do. I just want to go out, have fun and watch my teammates do well."